Why Is the New York Times Partnering With Shell Oil? [Updated]

New York Times and Shell Oil

The New York Times often covers Shell Oil's misdeeds and questionable choices, which in past years have included drilling in the arctic and denying human rights abuses in Nigeria. The oil industry is undeniably contentious and filled with scandals and coverups—all the more reason for the Times to write about it. But how can the Times remain objective when it is partnering with Shell Oil on an energy conference?

Shell is teaming up with the Times (as a media partner) for its 2011 Energy Summit next month in Houston, Texas. The summit will reportedly feature a keynote address from Bill Richardson, the former Governor of New Mexico, as well as an "intimate conversation" with former Times columnist Frank Rich and an inside look at Shell's Eco-Marathon, which challenges high school and college students to build energy-efficient vehicles.

Climate Progress got its hands on a copy of an invitation to the "symposium for 50 leaders from government, business and academia." Apparently, the Times is furnishing the conference an interactive iPad app and digital magazine featuring content from the paper. Whether that means the Times will include only oil industry-friendly articles or a more balanced perspective is hard to say, but it's troubling that the newspaper is willing to provide tailored content to Shell in the first place.

This isn't the first time the New York Times has come under fire for its oil industry dealings. In 2009, the paper ran a greenwashed front page ad from ExxonMobil. But running a misleading ad is arguably less of a crime than going so far as to pitch in on an oil industry-sponsored event. We're waiting on the Times for comment.

UPDATE:

Eileen Murphy, VP of Corporate Communications at the Times, tells us in a statement: "The New York Times is a Media Sponsor of the event.  We are not paying for any part of it, nor do we have any newsroom or Opinion involvement.  We are not promoting the event in the newspaper or online.  We are not providing any content and we are not sending anyone from our newsroom or opinion staff." Apparently, then, the conference is hand-picking its own content from the paper and putting it an iPad app. 

Follow Fast Company on Twitter. Ariel Schwartz can be reached by email.

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